First Significant Rain in Weeks Gives Fire Crews Much-Needed Break

WAYCROSS, Ga. (AP) - It won't be enough to put the blaze out, but rain from a tropical weather system gave a much-needed break to firefighters struggling to contain the largest wildfire recorded in Georgia since the 1950s.

Larry Morris with the Joint Information Center in Waycross says that more than 15-hundred firefighters and other personnel who have taken shifts battling the massive fire were NOT in the field for the first time since the first blaze started on April 16th.

About two inches of rain had fallen in the area by mid-afternoon. Morris says the rainfall from Tropical Storm Barry, which weakened to a depression this morning, is expected to total as much as four to five inches in some spots before ending Sunday.

That would help cool down some of the charred areas that are still smoldering, allowing fire crews to focus on the parts where the fire is actively raging.

Two major fires have charred nearly 600-thousand acres of swamp and timberland in northern Florida and southeastern Georgia since a tree fell on a power line south of Waycross and then a lightning strike inside the Okefenokee Swamp on May fifth ignited the second blaze.

The governors of Florida and Georgia have asked for a presidential emergency declaration for the counties affected by the wildfires and the extreme drought conditions.

The fires have also affected travel on two busy interstate highways, I-Ten and I-75, which were occasionally closed along the Florida-Georgia line when smoke reduced visibility in the past weeks. Smoke has drifted as far north as North Carolina and blanketed Atlanta on several occasions.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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